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"True Entity Of All Phenomena"...Cosmic Religious Feeling

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Posted by Glenn on June 28, 2003 08:03:30 UTC

Life is indeed mysterious. The principle of the true entity of all phenomena taught in Lotus sutra reveals this teaching to us the wondrous interrelationship of all things, clarifying that all phenomena--in other words, all individual life entities--are identical to the true entity--that is, the life of the universe. Each part is identical to the whole. Today, many different fields of modern science are affirming this same principle--that the whole is not simply a conglomeration of its parts but, in fact, the whole is contained in each of its parts.

There are many scientific findings that indicate that the whole is inclusive in its parts.
Perhaps the most easily understood example of this is the DNA in our cells.

DNA--deoxyribonucleic acid--is the substance that carries the genetic information of an organism and is found in each one of its cells. The human body is made up of approximately two hundred different kinds of cells, each with its own function. So it would be natural to assume that the DNA of each type of cell is distinct, but in fact the same DNA is found in almost all cells. In other words, every cell of our body--whether it is a cell that produces the hair on our head or a liver cell--contains the genetic information of our entire body.That was what the American film Jurassic Park, about cloning dinosaurs, was based on. It suggested that one cell recovered from a fossil would be sufficient to recreate a creature that was extinct, such as a dinosaur.

Precisely because each cell in the body contains a full complement of genetic information, it can perform the function appropriate to its location in the body. A hair cell functioning as a hair cell, a liver cell as a liver cell. There is harmony within the body as a whole. This is the mystic function of life.This harmony of component parts of living beings being in their proper place was something that Late Josei Toda described as exemplifying the Great [Buddhist]Teacher T'ien-t'ai's assertion: "The Law of all beings is mystic".

Fractal theory, which has recently come under a lot of attention, is another contemporary articulation of the idea that the whole is included in each of its parts. Fractal theory originally developed as a part of geometry. It refers to a structure in which component parts and the whole have the same shape, a characteristic known as self-similarity. Fractal structures can be seen everywhere in the natural world. The branching of airways in the human lung are fractal, because the branching of even the smallest portion thereof is identical to the branching of the whole system. The same phenomenon can be discerned in the branching of the capillaries in the brain; in the way streams branch out from rivers; in the shape of clouds; and in the way branches are arranged on trees. This similarity of the part and the whole can be found in many natural phenomena which, until now, were thought to follow no set pattern. Nor are fractal structures restricted to the natural world. It is said that they can be observed even in such things as telecommunications errors and social phenomena such as stock price fluctuations and the distribution of wealth.

This concept of the part containing the whole can be stated in terms of the [Buddhist]principle of the Ten World or Ten realms of exitence: each of the Ten Worlds (the part) contains all of the Ten Worlds (the whole). In other words, each of the Ten Worlds is a microcosm of its own. This is the principle of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds. Each individual life contains the Ten Worlds, and at the same time, the life of the universe itself contains the Ten Worlds.

During a discussion on the theory of life, Mr. Toda once said:

On any other planet with the same conditions for life as Earth, a human presence can be sensed. Perhaps "sensed" is not the best way of putting it. What I mean is that, since the entire universe contains the Ten Worlds, on that other planet, a human-like, a humanoid life form, will appear, in response to the Ten Worlds. Or let us imagine that only dogs or cats live on that planet--just as a supposition. Not a single human life form exists on that planet. But even in that case, the human realm will be sensed within the animal realm, because the Ten Worlds are mutually inclusive. So in a sense a human-like being is born on that planet.

Mr. Toda is describing the principle of "mystic response." Since the universe itself is an entity that embodies all of the Ten Worlds, the Ten Worlds within the universe appear in response to the conditions existing on various planets, in response to various causes, or having sensed that the time or some other circumstance is right for their appearance. The principle of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds, I think, offers valuable insights that may contribute to the theory of evolution and other aspects of the life sciences that is a subject that merits future research.

From the standpoint of the wisdom of the true entity of all phenomena, which sees the part as being identical to the whole, every single thing in existence is worthy of supreme reverence, possessing the treasure of the entire universe. The "Expedient Means" (second) chapter of the Lotus Sutra restates the principle of the true entity of all phenomena as:
"Phenomena are part of an abiding Law, / that the characteristics of the world are constantly abiding ". The "characteristics of the world" (all phenomena) are the manifestation (true entity) of the abiding Mystic Law.

T'ien-t'ai writes, "All things having color or fragrance are manifestations of the Middle Way." The phrase "all things having color or fragrance" refers to the tiniest bits of matter. Even the smallest things are the embodiment of the true entity of the Middle Way--in other words, entities of the life of the universe. In that respect, it is absolutely clear that nature is not something for human beings to use and exploit as they see fit, solely for their own interests. Both nature and humanity are part and whole of the life of the universe. Nature and humanity are one. To destroy the natural world is to destroy human life as well.

In the "Ongi Kuden" (Record of Orally Transmitted Teachings), Nichiren Daishonin says:

.."The countless entities in the three thousand worlds[realms] which are undergoing the process of birth, duration, change and extinction are all in themselves embodiments of [the Thus Come One's] transcendental powers."

In other words, all phenomena, ever-changing, appearing and disappearing, are themselves manifestations of the Thus Come One's transcendental powers. Ceaselessly changing though they are, all things in the universe are in fact constantly abiding; are the Middle Way; are the true entity; [or] are the Thus Come One(another buddhist term for Buddha).
Mr. Toda remarked:

"...Ultimately, each instant of existence should be called "Thus Come One." Not only our own lives but all things in the universe never cease to change for the briefest instant. They are transformed and transformed again from one moment to the next. Since every single thing is constantly changing its form, a house as a house, the very house itself, is constantly changing what it is. Time passes and it turns into clods and dust. The clods as clods, the clods themselves, become dust, and the dust continues to disintegrate as well.

When we see all things for what they are, this is called the principle of temporary existence. And since these phenomena are temporary, they are not real. In that respect, they are nonsubstantial--this is the principle of nonsubstantiality. If we look at each moment as existing just as it is, that is the Middle Way. So the appearance and nature of all things, in their moment-by-moment existence, are the true entity. Our moment-by-moment existences and lives are also the true entity, and in that momentary true entity, all life from the beginningless past is included, as well as all life into the infinite future. This single instant of life contains the effects of all our past lives and the causes for all our future lives. This is the Law of the Lotus, the law of cause and effect. This single instant of life is the activity of the universe itself, our own life, and actual existence. The activity of the universe from moment to moment is constantly changing and manifests itself as various phenomena, all of which are undergoing a transformation within that activity. This is what we call "transcendental powers." It is not a matter of someone bestowing some kind of power on us. What it means is that the free and unrestricted transformation of all universal phenomena, in response to all other activity therein, represents the true entity of the universe..."

As the term "all phenomena" indicates, Buddhism's view of matter, too, is not as some fixed and unchanging object but as a dynamic phenomenon that goes through a cycle of generation and disintegration. In other words, Buddhism views matter from the dimension of the phenomenal, as opposed to the purely material. It regards life, too, as a dynamic phenomenon that undergoes a cycle of birth and death.

Usually, it would be thought a mistake to view a phenomenon in the same way we do a material object, that is, as a static and fixed existence. But we cannot say that a phenomenon does not exist, either. It neither exists nor doesn't exist. Yet there are times when it is fair to describe a phenomenon as existing, and times when it is just as appropriate to describe a phenomenon as non-existing. This way of looking at things is called the Middle Way, because it takes a middle path without adhering either to existence or non-existence. This is the same as "the true entity" when it is correctly understood just as it is.

It's easy to understand when we look at reality in terms of its phenomenal and material dimensions. We could probably apply this to the three truths of nonsubstantiality, temporary existence and the Middle Way that Mr. Toda mentions. For example, to look at matter not as something fixed or static (material) but dynamic (phenomenal) in nature would correspond to the truth of nonsubstantiality. Yet, it is also possible to temporarily view matter as static, so this would correspond to the truth of temporary existence. To refrain from adhering to either view, meanwhile, would represent the truth of the Middle Way. T'ien-t'ai described a perfect and fully integrated understanding of the true entity of all phenomena from all three of these perspectives as the "unification of the three truths." This was the true entity of all phenomena of which he spoke.

All things reside in the realm of phenomena, subject to the cycle of birth, duration, change and extinction. What we call matter is simply a phenomenon that has entered a temporary stage of stability or duration. Classical science, and particularly its core of Newtonian mechanics, is based on a material view of existence. For example, in Newtonian mechanics, two objects exist, and between those two solid objects a force called gravity operates. This system explained many physical phenomena very adroitly, with the result that eventually the view that life was nothing more than matter, nothing more than a machine, came to predominate.

This view, however, is not really fundamental to science itself nor it is not part of science per se. Its real source is in "the religion of science," I would say. Some describe this tendency to fix on one aspect of reality and then declare that it applies to every-thing as "reductionism." This kind of reductionist thinking makes the error of reducing the whole to one of its parts and then extending that partial view to encompass the whole.I think that this reductionist way of viewing things has cast a dark shadow over people's lives today, and it is one of the things that has robbed them of hope and contributed to an increase in their sense of powerlessness.

To avoid falling into the error of worshiping science as a religion, we need a true philosophy that expresses a holistic view of life. Proper scientific method recognizes a partial view as just that--a partial view. And since the search for truth lies at the very root of science, when a once-authoritative partial view reaches a dead end, science strives to break through that impasse and discover new, more creative theories that approach reality more closely. This is how scientific revolutions occur.

Many of these scientific revolutions, as historical records show, are sparked by the genius and creativity of a single individual. Brilliant scientists like Albert Einstein are a good example of this.

Einstein described the motivation for his passionate search for the truth as "a cosmic religious feeling" It was, he said, "to experience the universe as a single significant whole." He perceived "the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought." He also wrote that "Buddhism . . . contains a much stronger element of it [this cosmic religious feeling]."

Einstein emphasized that science and religion are not in opposition. Not only was religious feeling a motivation for scientific pursuit, but the results of scientific investigation made humankind humble in the face of the wondrous natural laws that govern all existence. He writes:

.."This attitude, however, appears to me to be religious, in the highest sense of the word. And so it seems to me that science not only purifies the religious impulse of the dross of its anthropomorphism but also contributes to a religious1spiritualization of our understanding of life."

The main source of conflict between science and religion, according to Einstein, was the "concept of a personal God." The "dross of anthropomorphism" in the passage I just quoted refers to this concept. The humble search for the law of life, which is the way of Buddhism, was, according to Einstein, simultaneously scientific and religious. From the Buddhist perspective, we could say that Buddhism is an all-encompassing body of wisdom focused on the totality of life, while science is focused on temporary aspects of existence. In that sense, science is a part of Buddhism. That is why there can be no conflict between the two. All of the truths of the world are, without exception, the Buddhist Law.

Mr. Toda often said that the more science advanced, the more it would demonstrate the validity and truth of the Buddhist teachings. Of course, science and Buddhism belong to two separate dimensions, and their approaches are different as well. I am not saying that Buddhist teachings are correct by virtue of their validation by science. Scientific knowledge changes and evolves on a daily basis, but the absolute truths of Buddhism are in no way affected by the relative truths of science.

Nevertheless, we do see that the more science advances, the more it is arriving at a position that is in harmony with Buddhism. Today, this agreement acts as a strong recommendation of the preeminence of Buddhist philosophy. For example, Einstein's theory of relativity is extremely close to a worldview that is phenomenal (dynamic and integrated) as opposed to material (static and mechanistic.

The theory of relativity postulates that all physical phenomena exist in a four-dimensional continuum known as space-time, where the three dimensions of space are merged with the dimension of time. In classical Newtonian mechanics, time and space were regarded as absolute and separate. This was based on our everyday perceptions of and assumptions about time--for example, that time passes at the same rate for a person riding in an automobile and a person walking along the road. But the theory of relativity tells us that the faster one is moving through space, the slower time passes for the observer. Time and space are indivisible, in other words. One cannot be divorced from the other. It is the relationship (phenomenal in nature) between the two that governs the way each of them appears.

Modern physics has also discovered that it is impossible to accurately measure at the same time the position and velocity of an object, especially in the realm of subatomic particles. The attempt of measurement itself exerts an influence on the activity of these particles. At work here is Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, which effectively destroyed the distinction between object and subject upon which modern analytical science rested. In other words, object and subject are inseparable. The results of scientific observation are determined by the relationship between observer and observed.

In its pursuit of the basic building blocks of the universe--a search taking it to ever smaller and smaller components, from molecules to atoms, from atoms to subatomic particles--modern science has stumbled on a paradox: the most basic subatomic particles have a dual nature. They are not only particles, but also waves. This discovery has forced scientists to reassess their way of looking at the world of matter, hitherto viewed as fixed and unchanging, and instead view it in terms of the actual changes occurring to matter itself and the interrelationship between different kinds of matter. In other words, to take a phenomenal, integrated view. They were also compelled to take into account the relationship between observer and object.

The picture of the world painted by modern physics has thus undergone a dramatic change, from a conglomeration of infinite matter to a tapestry of infinite relationships. And this latter vision of the world has much in common with the insights and perceptions of Mahayana Buddhism.

Einstein revealed that matter is simply energy in a temporarily stable state. According to this theory, matter and energy are not separate. But at the same time, they always take either one form or the other. In other words, they are indivisible but manifest themselves temporarily as separate.

Einstein discovered that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared. This is the famous equation E=mc2. Light travels at close to 300,000 kilometers (approximately 186,000 miles) per second, so it is clear that an enormous amount of energy is produced by a tiny amount of mass.This discovery was later used in the development of the atomic bomb. That is a tragedy that occurred because Einstein's theory took on a life of its own as it was put to use by people who did not understand the significance of the phenomenal worldview, which the theory originally suggested. The world is an intricately interwoven web of infinite relations. When we apply this worldview to matter and to all living things, including people, we can see the world as Mr. Toda did, as one great life entity, [or]as the Thus Come One. And further, we can perceive that it is the true entity of our own existence as well.

A weapon such as the atomic bomb, whose only purpose is destruction and division, is nothing more than the product of the ignorance and delusion that shrouds the true entity of existence. The fundamental darkness inherent in life manifests itself as the Devil of the Sixth Heaven. Mr. Toda declared that whoever used atomic weapons was a devil incarnate, a fiend. This declaration was an expression of his enormous rage at anyone who would so violate and annihilate life, something so infinitely precious and noble. At any rate, the revolution in scientific thought from a static to a dynamic worldview shook all human thought to its very foundations. We might say that this scientific revolution, the result of analytical reasoning having reached its limits, has provided us with a glimpse of a vast realm that a static, partial worldview had not been able to come to grips with. It was based on that realization that Einstein and Heisenberg, among others, came to reflect on the existence of a larger whole, the ultimate reality of which the laws of physics occupied only a certain portion.

Analytical reasoning has been a powerful weapon of modern science. Many of the rules governing the natural world were discovered by analyzing matter into small parts that could be easily observed and reducing the complexities of natural phenomena to simpler elements. In that process of simplifying a phenomenon into its elements, there is a tendency to discard or ignore other aspects of the phenomenon. Instead of turning their attention to the true entity that is inherent in all ever-changing, interrelated phenomena, scientists working from such assumptions choose to view such phenomena as fixed entities, ignoring certain aspects of them, and proceed to extract laws from this limited reality--laws which they then regard as the whole truth.

Recently, there has been a reaction within the scientific community to scientific thought of this kind. One of those reactions has been the recognition that we have been able to gain only a very limited, partial understanding of the natural world by means of rational analysis.
We see frequent evidence that science cannot predict future phenomena, no matter how deeply it may analyze them. I have no intention whatsoever of criticizing the work of meteorologists, but weather forecasting is the perfect example of this inability to predict the future. Long-term weather forecasts, in fact, are generally expected to be wrong! There are simply too many complex, interrelated meteorological factors to be taken into account for accurate long-term weather forecasts to be possible by means of any sort of analytical reasoning.

The "science of complexity" seems to be one of the new currents of science today. While science until now has tried to attain certain knowledge by simplifying phenomena and stripping them of their natural complexity, the science of complexity focuses on the complex nature of phenomena just as it is, without reducing phenomena to simpler models that are easier to analyze. America's Santa Fe Research Institute in New Mexico is famous for its new research system that dismantles the traditional boundaries of biology, mathematics, physics and other sciences and seeks to comprehend phenomena from a holistic perspective. Weather, ecology and the brain are all examples of complex systems that cannot be fully understood by mathematical analysis or simulations. Why is it that "simple" science does not apply to such natural phenomena? One reason is that in such phenomena, very small changes can produce very great changes--the so-called "butterfly effect." The butterfly effect gets its name from the following scenario: a butterfly in the Amazon rain forest flaps its wings. That tiny action becomes the starting point for an infinite chain of events, eventually resulting in a change in the global weather. Somewhat like the saying, "For want of a nail... the kingdom was lost."

But though the same butterfly may flap its wings the next day, it might have no effect on the weather at all. This uncertainty is one of the distinctive characteristics of the science of complexity. Another difference between the science of simplicity and the science of complexity is clearly demonstrated in the difference between the way a computer and the human brain work. Computers are excellent at mathematical computations, data processing and memory storage, but if even the smallest error enters the data, they cannot function properly. The human brain, on the other hand, is not well-suited for such large computations or processing or memorizing huge volumes of information, but it has a flexibility that allows it to deal with small errors in data, as well as an ability to extract in a moment the data it needs from a wide variety of data. A computer programmed to play chess, no matter how sophisticated it is, often loses to a human player.

The teaching the true entity of all phenomena, which Shakyamuni's original intent, was to urge us all to rise to the same challenge wanted to let his listeners know that all people, no matter what their circumstances, are equal and have unlimited potential. And took himslef the lead and fought that battle. As the "Expedient Means" chapter [Lotus sutra]states:

I view things through the Buddha eye,
I see the living beings in the six paths,
how poor and distressed they are, without merit or wisdom,
how they enter the perilous road of birth and death,
their sufferings continuing with never a break,
[they] enter deeply into erroneous views,
hoping to shed suffering through greater suffering.
For the sake of these living beings
I summon up a mind of great compassion."

Compassion means to feel others' sufferings as our own. It originates from a deep inner cry of sympathy when we share someone's pain. Shakyamuni sought a way to free all living beings from the chains of suffering, and he agonized and fought to perfect that way. In the "Expedient Means" chapter, he relates how he cried out in his heart: "I have come into this impure and evil world". With this thought, Shakyamuni resolved to take up the challenge of leading others to enlightenment.

The Lotus Sutra has often been likened to the great ocean. Nichiren Daishonin writes, "It [the Lotus Sutra] is like the water of the great ocean, a single drop of which contains water from all the countless streams and rivers" . The whole is included in the parts. All the treasures of the universe are there in each individual. The drama of infinite value-creation begins with the actions of one person.

The English philosopher Alfred Whitehead (1861-1947) taught that nature was not a conglomeration of things but a series of events. He writes, "Life can only be understood as an aim at that perfection which the conditions of its environment allow. But the aim is always beyond the attained fact." In other words, life aims for perfection, always seeking to approach it as closely as possible. It is always trying to transcend the attained fact, the present reality.

Life is not some simple mechanism governed only by physical laws of cause and effect. Of course, since living things are made of matter, they do have a mechanical aspect. But they are not simply machines and nothing more. All life has a fundamental desire to create value. Value is a relative notion, and in this world that is a tapestry of relationships, life is always seeking to create ever better relationships, that is, ever greater value.

Life tries to weave a more beautiful tapestry (the value of Beauty), a more useful tapestry (the value of Benefit), a better tapestry (the value of Good). I think there can be no doubt that the activity of creating value is a very important characteristic of life. In that sense, the struggle to achieve perfection is the proof of life. Life aspires toward a perfection that is "always beyond the attained fact." From the perspective of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds, all life, whatever its present form, is seeking to transcend its present state in pursuit of perfection.

The essential nature of life is to aspire for the perfection that is the state of Buddhahood[being a buddha]or absolute happiness/or enlightenment. This aspiration is expressed in the phrase that appears throughout the sutra: "Pressing their palms together and turning toward the Buddha." In other words, all life, at the most fundamental level of existence reveres the Buddha. The teaching of the true entity of all phenomena, I think, reveals this truth that every living thing is an irreplaceably precious existence.

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